Socitm has raised concerns about the usability of council digital housing services, warning many are falling short of the requirements needed
Digital housing services are falling short across many councils. The warning was delivered by public sector IT managers group Soctim. The organisation warned many local authorities are not delivering user friendly social housing and building control services online.
Online building control services
The findings from the Better Connected survey highlighted the issue, finding that more simplified approaches were needed to present local authority building control services online.
The survey also found that during testing of the 353 council websites the majority of services provided could lead to householders facing additional costs, fines, and complications.
In a statement Socitm said: “Too many web pages covering building control (building standards in Scotland) appear to be written by professionals for professionals, when the assumption should be that the website visitor has little prior knowledge of the subject.”
Better Connected found that 34 per cent of sites in Scotland and 43 per cent across the UK were rated as “good” or “very good” when it came to clear and simple explanations relating to complying with regulations on council websites.
“In all, only 44 per cent of Scottish sites and just over a third of the rest got a ‘yes’ answer to the question about whether the whole compliance process from beginning to end is made clear.
“It was surprisingly difficult to find information specifically about certification, inspection and enforcement, issues of significant interest to householders.”
Inconsistent content was also found to be an issue, particularly in regard to links from local authority websites to external sources such as Planning Portal, GOV.UK and eBuilding Standards in Scotland. This, Socitm said, could confuse users.
“Using external content only worked where much attention had been paid to the overall customer journey and the pages linked to.
“Relying on links to lengthy PDFs, often provided by third parties and filled with advertising, was rarely a good solution.”
Some councils were found to be reshaping building control services, but Socitm highlighted the importance of end-to-end customer journeys that explain when users are moving to external sites.
Social housing services
According to a separate study of 36 metropolitan authorities online social housing usability was found to be just as difficult to navigate.
Socitm said: “The last time Better Connected tested this task was in March 2016, when the 33 London boroughs were tested with a near identical question set.
“This showed just over half providing a good or very good service. Metropolitan districts do less well, with 39 per cent performing at the same level.
“London councils did much better in answering the survey question about the likelihood of applicants being successful in getting housing via the council, 63 per cent of London councils scoring a ‘Yes’ answer, compared with fewer than 20 per cent of metropolitan districts.”
The findings also revealed: “In general, our commentary for London councils following last year’s Better Connected applies across the board for metropolitan districts, only more so, with the best sites requiring those seeking to join the housing register to go through a pre-qualification assessment.”
Information presented in difficult formats
Furthermore, criticisms were levelled at councils over how they display information on their site, in particular the use of PDF documents.
The survey said: “People seeking social housing may well be in temporary accommodation where a mobile device or a public access computer is their main means of accessing information, and in both cases, pdfs can be problematic.
“We do not expect all information to be on web pages, and acknowledge that with housing, there is a lot of information about details of eligibility and how to apply. But key information needs to be explicit on web pages.”